Why I did not sign the text “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World”

HIEROTHEOS VLACHOS OF NAFPAKTOS

Various comments have been published related to the stance
I took regarding the text of the Holy and Great Council of
the Orthodox Church with the title: “Relations of
the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian
World.” Some write that I didn’t sign it,
others that I did but with reservations, and others that I
did.

With this statement of mine, I confirm that in actuality I
did not sign this text and that besides this I’ve
expressed my reservations about the texts “The Mission
of the Orthodox Church in Today’s World”
and “The
Sacrament of Marriage and its Impediments” on
particular points which I made clear during council
sessions.

Especially about the first text “Relations of the
Orthodox Church to the rest of the Christian world”
I want to say that truly after deep thought based in
theological criteria, I did not sign.

It is not time yet to put forward all of my historical and
theological arguments, something which I will do when I
analyze more generally all of the processes and the
[spiritual] atmosphere which I recognized in the
carryings-on of the sessions of the Holy and Great Synod.
Here I will mention succinctly several particular reasons.

  • [In making my decision to not sign] I took into
    consideration that several of the unanimously-voted
    decisions of the hierarchy of the Church of Greece were
    not accepted, not only with regards to the phrase
    “the Orthodox Church knows the historical existence
    of other Christian Confessions and Communities” but
    also in four or five instances.
  • From the beginning, the whole structure and way of
    thinking in the text troubled me, because it came from the
    combination of two different texts, yet until the very end
    I had hope that it would be corrected with the suggestions
    of the other Churches.
  • My refusal to sign cannot be understood unless I
    provide some information as to why the delegates of the
    Church of Greece suddenly changed the unanimous decision
    of the Hierarchy of the Church [of Greece]. As is known,
    the initial decision of the hierarchy in May of 2016 was
    that [the original text be changed to read] “the
    Orthodox Church recognizes the historical existence of
    other ChristianConfessions and
    Communities,” and this was modified [at the Council]
    to read “the Orthodox Church accepts the historical
    appellation of other heterodox Christian Churches and
    Confessions.” The difference between these two
    phrases is obvious.
  • One last reason, which is not as substantial but
    carries special weight, is the intense verbal criticism
    which the Church of Greece received for its decision [to
    remain faithful to the decision of the hierarchy].
    Certainly, it is on solid ground that the Archbishop of
    Athens and All Greece, Ieronymos, rejected this offensive
    treatment. In the end, however, it was this offensive
    conduct which played a psychological role in the
    formulation of the other suggestion.

I decided, from the outset, to participate in the Holy and
Great Synod as a member of the delegation of the Church of
Greece, however, I awaited the decisions of the hierarchy
in May of 2016 in order to decide whether I would
[finally] attend. When I discovered that the decisions of
the hierarchy were important and unanimous, I ended up
deciding to participate in the Holy and Great Synod in
order to support them.

However, at last, I observed that, for various reasons,
not all the corrections to the text which were suggested
by the Churches passed. It was the Metropolitan of
Pergamon who, obviously in the role of Advisor, at the
behest of the Patriarch, was the final evaluator of
suggestions, either rejecting them, or correcting them, or
adopting them, and his evaluation was accepted by the
Church of Constantinople and the other Churches.

In my view, the text was not ready to be put forth by the
Holy and Great Synod, since up to the very last minute,
just before the signing, it was being corrected and
modified, [indeed] even during its translation into the
three official languages, French, English, and Russian.
This was the reason why several Churches from the
beginning sought the withdrawal of the text for further
modification. In addition to this, the text is too
diplomatic and can be used by everyone according to their
own preferences.

As I stated in the meeting of the Holy and Great Synod,
the text doesn’t have a strict ecclesiological
basis. The question of what the Church is and who are its
members was one of the nearly one hundred issues which had
been raised by the Holy and Great Synod, but, over time,
fell to the wayside in view of a wider conversation and
dialogue, to be decided later. Hence what the Church is
and who are its members must first of all be discussed and
defined, and only after this can the position of the
heterodox be defined.

Also, if I had signed this text, I would have been denying
all that I have written for some time now, with regards to
ecclesiology and based on the Holy Fathers of the Church.
Obviously, this is something I could not do.

On the [previous] Friday when this particular text was
discussed [at the Council], the conversation reached a
dead end at the sixth paragraph, where there was
discussion [of the above phrase] as how to refer to the
Heterodox. The Church of Romania suggested they be called
“Confessions and Heterodox Communities”. The
Church of Cyprus suggested they be called “Heterodox
Churches”. And the Church of Greece suggested they
be called “Christian Confessions and
Communities”. Because the Church of Romania withdrew
its suggestion, the conversation came down to the
suggestion of the Church of Cyprus, which was accepted by
the other Churches, and the suggestion of the Church of
Greece.

In a special meeting of our delegation on Friday
afternoon, it was decided that we would abide by the
decision of our hierarchy even though alternative
solutions would be proposed, such as “the Orthodox
Church recognizes the existence of the heterodox” or
“of other Christians” or “of
non-Orthodox Christians”.

Because the suggestions of the Church of Greece were not
accepted, the Ecumenical Patriarch, in the afternoon
session on Friday, publically suggested that there be a
meeting between the Metropolitan of Pergamon and myself in
order to find a solution. The Metropolitan of Pergamon did
not seem open to such a thing, and I stated that it was
not a personal issue where I could take on the
responsibility alone, but it was an issue for the entire
delegation. Thus, the Ecumenical Patriarch suggested to
the Archbishop of Athens that some solution be found.

Saturday morning before the session, our delegation
gathered to make the relevant decision. The Archbishop of
Athens and all of Greece, Ieronymos, acting
democratically, mentioned that there are three particular
solutions. The first was to abide by the decision of the
hierarchy; the second was to put forth a new suggestion
with very particular considerations (of which I do not
know where it came from or who proposed it) that read,
“the Orthodox Church accepts the historical
appellation of other heterodox Christian Churches and
Confessions”; and the third was that we accept the
suggestion of the Church of Cyprus which spoke of
“heterodox Churches”. A discussion ensured and
the delegation voted upon the three suggestions.
Personally, I supported the first suggestion’s
alternative formulations previously referred to [approved
by the hierarchy], while all of the others present voted
for the second.

I thought that this suggestion was not suitable from an
historical and theological perspective and I declared
immediately before all those present that I would not sign
this text if this suggestion was put forth, but for the
sake of unity I will withdraw from further conversation.
Consequently, I would not be able to sign the text for the
[stated] reason.

At the very least, I [can attest that I] personally was
subject to severe pressure and abusive treatment from the
hierarchs for my stance, and I was informed that the other
bishops of our Church were also subject to such pressures,
as well. And, because I always [strive to] behave with
calmness, sobriety, and freedom, I could not accept these
insulting actions.

These are the most basic reasons which, theologically and
from a sense of conscience, made it impossible for me to
sign. It is true that, on the final text which was
published, my name appears as a supposed signatory of the
text, evidently since I was a member of the delegation of
the Church of Greece [even though I did not sign].

Here I present only this limited information about what
happened concerning the matter [of the
“Relations” text]. I will write more later,
when I will analyze historically and theologically what is
troublesome with regard to the final suggestion which the
Church of Greece made and which passed into the [final
version of the] text.

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